May 12, 2008
Startling Insights from a Colonizer Position
I was actually while reading the book. When I saw the name, I was instantly attracted. The name points to a reality that is mine. I am a 'Bengali' and I have never been elsewhere. So, I know and live this reality. I was anticipating a text that will give me some 'data' of the colonial times, 'data' collected from the other end of the counter, the colonizer point of view. I have known read thought and lived this reality from the colonized end. Even today, as we call it, the 'colonial legacy', that game is in no way over.
But, in place of some empirical data about that time and place, what I got was some real 'insight' into that space-time. I consider them quite able insights because I can very much check them and corroborate them from my end, at the double remove of time and power-position. In fact so many things about the 'Bengali' reality is so living, one cannot help getting startled.
This author had a direct interface and experience. Obviously the book is highly 'partisan'. It is the author's Christian Missionary point-of-view. It is loaded with author's own interpretations and values. This author has other texts in that area too, though I don't know if they are available or not. A request to anyone reading this review: please send a mail to dasd.here AT gmail DOT com if you get any link of any text other than this by this author.
But, while depicting this reality, her grasp of this alien colonized life and culture is surprising, to say the least. Obviously we see many texts of this genre. Readily one reference is bound to come in our heads, that is Kipling. Kipling is a great writer, in all senses of the term. But, while reading Kipling, it never occurred to me, both in my childhood, and now, that it was really about this country. Rather it is some fictional space, very artistically generated, but a space that, if it at all resides outside the colonizer ruler's head, at least not anything that coincides with my version of this history. But this author in this text was very much talking about "this" reality, that I know and share, though at that double remove, as I already said.
The intimate reading and understanding of an alien culture that is there in this text can never be commonplace. I have never seen it before. In fact, last night it took me around five hours to read this very small text. That was only due to my getting absent and pondering on those times and concepts, it engrossed me, it activated me. All the time I was thinking about translating it into Bangla ('Bengali' being the colonial nomenclature) and I was getting excited by the challenge of self-recursive double-discrepancies: how I am going to retranslate those minor discrepancies that came in there while the author translated many of the Bangla words and concepts and events into Bangla, and so now this retranslation should now carry the trace of the double-discrepancy. If I just replace the author's one with the actual Bengali one, that will be, in the true sense not playing the game, and so, the retranslation should invent some counter discrepancy that would point out that it is talking about some talks that were erroneously talked by someone who does not know these things fully well.